4 Fascinating Facts About Your Breastmilk

4 Fascinating Facts About Your Breastmilk

Nature designed your milk to go straight from its source to its destination without being seen.

But humans worked out a long time ago how to express their milk by hand, and more recently, how to use machines to collect it.

So now you get a chance to see what nature had kept hidden for thousands of years!

Lots of mothers have questions about what their milk looks like, so here are 4 fascinating facts about breastmilk that provide some answers:

Fact #1: Breastmilk Doesn’t Look Like Cow’s Milk!

It is natural for us to compare our milk with the only other milk we regularly see, but the composition and appearance of human milk is very different to the cow’s milk you pour on your cereal! Especially when you remember that cow’s milk has been pasteurised (heated to kill bacteria before cooling quickly) and homogenised (processed to mix the milk and cream so finely they can no longer separate) so from the carton, it also looks different to direct from the cow!

So, don’t panic when you look at the milk you have expressed and is looks watery, bluish-white or has separated into two layers in storage: that is what it is supposed to look like!

Fact #2: Breastmilk Changes Several Times In The First Few Weeks!

The very first milk, colostrum, begins production in the first half of your pregnancy and – even if you never leak or squeeze any out – is ready and waiting for your baby to arrive. It is very concentrated milk, high in fats, nutrients, immune factors and energy, but very low in water.

Having sat in the fluid of your womb for nine months, your baby is born a bit water-logged and has plenty of fluid for his first few days! For now, your milk is a sticky, yellow substance that oozes from your breast.

Around the second half of the first week, your breasts begin the transition to mature breastmilk. The placenta coming away tells your body your baby is born and now your breasts can work towards full lactation. Sometimes this is called your milk ‘coming in’ and for some women, hard, full breasts can result if your baby doesn’t empty the breasts as quickly as they fill!

By feeding or pumping as often as you can, you will keep the production line moving and avoid uncomfortable engorgement. Don’t fall for the ‘old midwives tale’ that expressing will just create too much milk — hard, full breast tissue tells your body to slow down supply, which is the last thing you want! This milk will be yellowy-white and you might start to see it dripping or even spraying when you pump.

Finally, by around 14 days or so, the last of the colostrum will be gone and your milk will lose any hint of yellowness and become the colours of mature breastmilk.

Fact #3: Breastmilk Comes In Different Colours

Sometimes the colour of your milk might surprise you. Almost all the colours of the rainbow can appear as a result of natural – or artificial – colours in your diet. Medications can also change the colour of your milk.

Read more about unusual appearances of breastmilk.

Fact #4: Breastmilk Consistency Is Never The Same!

The milk you see at the beginning of a feed has a lot of water, to satisfy your thirsty baby. When your milk lets-down, the fat content begins to rise – and keeps doing so throughout the feed! So the appearance changes from something that looks like skim-milk right through to rich, full-cream with an extra dollop! After the baby takes all he needs, the milk slowly returns to the first stage, ready to begin again.

All through the day, depending on how often and how long your baby feeds on each breast, you might see it at different stages of the process. If you feed or express soon after a feed, the milk volume might be low but it is rich and creamy. The longer between feeding or pumping, the lower the fat level becomes.

So, frequent breastfeeding or expressing means high calorie milk, even if the volume is small, perfect for growing babies. If you are working to increase your supply for a baby receiving EBM (expressed breastmilk), power pumping helps you collect this rich milk and boost production at the same time.

Whatever it looks like, your milk is just what nature designed to feed your baby. It won’t be too thin, too watery or too weak – and it won’t look like formula either! Because it’s human milk for human babies.

Further Reading

Find out more about expressing and storing your breastmilk here.

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Yvette O'Dowd has been a breastfeeding counsellor and educator since 1992. She has three adult children and a two year old granddaughter - the best sort of bonus baby! Yvette runs a popular natural parenting network, is a babywearing educator, and runs antenatal breastfeeding classes for parents expecting twins and more! She is a keen photographer and scrap-booker and a keeper of a fairy garden.

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